Sunday, July 24, 2011

SKIDOO: You Gotta Be There!

The following was
written by North-
west Film Forum
program director
Adam Sekuler to
promote a
screening of this
under-seen gem.
I'm posting it
with his permis-
sion on the occa-
sion of the film's
long-awaited ar-
rival on DVD.

(Otto Preminger, US, 1968, 97 mins.)

The best film screening the first week of SIFF is easily Skidoo. It's this
Sunday at 3pm at the Film Forum, not in the SIFF program actually, but is
a part of our Secret Sunday matinee series. We don't typically divulge the
feature, but this is just that rare and just that good. I can't recommend
this enough, and in my typically verbose way, here's why you HAVE to be
here for it. Its not available on DVD or VHS, and the film rarely plays!

Skidoo presents an unlikely domestic situation in which Jackie Gleason
plays a retired San Francisco hit man-turned-car wash owner and Carol
plays his daffy wife. Yes, Gleason and Channing as man and
wife; can you imagine them making love? Gleason soon finds himself on a
mission from God. Not the God of the Father-Son-and-Holy Spirit fame,
but the head of the local mob who is known as God. God is played by
Groucho Marx
, and if you can believe Groucho as a mafia chieftain…

Anyway, Gleason is ordered by God to get himself arrested and sent to
Alcatraz, where he is to do a hit on a former gangster who turned infor-
mer. Unfortunately for Gleason, this target (played by Mickey Rooney,
who seems to be reading his lines from cue cards) is in ultra-tight protec-
tive custody and is thus immune from unpleasant visitors carrying shanks.

Unable to fulfill his assignment and stuck in Alcatraz on a bogus
rap, Gleason finds an escape by accident: he shares a cell with
a draft-dodging writer (Austin Pendleton, in his film debut)
who laced the glue of his stationery envelopes with LSD.

Channing is
coping with the
news their
teenage daugh-
ter [Alexandra
has fallen
in with a group
of hippies. The
mod mom hap-
pily embraces
the hippies
and brings
them into her
home. She
tries to get
to God by seducing a young mobster (Frankie Avalon; yes, that
Frankie Avalon). When that fails, she and the hippies commandeer a
small armada and sail off to God's yacht off the San Francisco coast.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

In 2009, the NWFF screened Model Shop as part of their 1969 series. Jacques
Demy's Los Angeles effort also features Alexandra Hay, the daughter in

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
***** *****

Meanwhile, Gleason spikes the soup in the Alcatraz commissar-
y with the LSD-laced envelopes and creates a makeshift balloon
out of garbage bags and a garbage can. He and his druggie cell-
mate fly off to God's yacht just as the hippie fleet arrives. After
much to-do, God and the acid-tripping writer abandon ship to-
gether and sail off into the sunset with a bountiful supply of acid.

Skidoo is such a wild assault on the senses that it's hard to im-
agine the film was ever made. Under Preminger's direction, LSD
is a liberating and empowering tool; it makes Gleason and Marx's
characters end their criminal ways in pursuit of a greater truth. It
also allows an astonishing number of guest stars in the Alcatraz
sequences (including Rooney, Peter Lawford, Richard Kiel,
Burgess Meredith
and Frank Gorshin) tripping on acid.

If that's not enough, the film is packed with other unlikely star
turns including Cesar Romero as Avalon's dad, George Raft
as the skipper of God's yacht, Arnold Stang as Gleason's stooge,
and the great character actor Fred Clark and singer Harry
(who wrote the music) as prison guards.

As for the acid
trips, Premin-
ger fills the
screen with
such imagery
as the Green
Bay Packers
mooning the
camera and
an elaborate
dance se-
quence with
women dressed in garbage cans doing a mock ballet under a
red light. Preminger reportedly experimented with Timothy
to get a feel for what one experiences on LSD, even
insisting that everyone try LSD before making the film!

Skidoo is one of the most wonderfully rude movies ever made. It is
so blatantly weird and in such marvelously bad taste that it feels as if
Preminger was prescient on the pending rise of underground counter-
culture comedy such as John Waters and Cheech and Chong.

It is a film where the druggies are the heroes and even criminals can
become angels if they just learn to chill with LSD. It is a movie where
Hollywood's icons happily ham it up while being under the narcotic in-
fluence and the closing shot, with Groucho Marx and Austin Pendleton
dressed as Hare Krishnas in a boat full of drugs is too funny to endure.

Okay, that's a hell of a lot about this film, but it's really the best
thing screening this week in Seattle, and you only have this one
chance to see it. Even if its 79 degrees on Sunday, don't miss out!

--Adam Sekuler, Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Endnote: Images from Talking Moviezzz and Paper.

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